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What Ifs: Great for Plots, Bad for Self-Reflection

My books would be insanely boring if it wasn’t for “what ifs” and “what kind of…” questions.

Throughout the writing process for the Colter Sons Series, I employed both questions to build the characters, define the plot, and create tension to move the story forward.

What if the oldest Colter son, James, wasn’t the first to fall in love? What if the second son, Sam, became the heir to the ranch instead of the first? What if he became the only heir out of five brothers? What if Boone didn’t want to get married, ended up in a moral dilemma requiring him to marry, but fell in love with her, anyway? What if Deacon met the love of his life but made a disastrous first impression? What if Preston had a son he didn’t know about? Would it turn him around? What if Violet, the surprise daughter, had terrible luck at love?

All these questions played an important role in how I developed each book in the series and the overarching series outline. The “what ifs” sometimes end up with crazy answers and don’t always make it into the book, but they help me refine it.

The other question I love to ask is “what kind of…” What kind of woman would the wild and crazy Boone Colter fall in love with? What kind of woman would make the perfect match for Sam? What kind of friendship with Deacon would push his younger brother out of the role of close confidant? What kind of woman would capture Preston’s heart years before he got his act together? What kind of career would a woman have that would cause James to respect her? What kind of job could Violet take to keep her independence after such a significant loss?

Usually the “what kind of…” questions help me refine relationships, characters, and create tension in the story. I love employing both questions to add fun to the process, even if my ideas don’t make it to print.

On my character development worksheet, there’s one more question that I rarely write down, but always think about: What outrageous or extreme action might this character take under the full sway of one of their character traits? That question has led me to some very interesting scenes as the story unfolds.

Before you go, one last thought: If you haven’t already learned this life lesson, “what ifs” are terrible for self-reflection on past hurts. Not much good comes from it. But “what ifs” are fantastic for dreaming big and coming up with great story plots. Enjoy!


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